Apparently it’s that time again, the one we all resist and desperately try to stay away from; it’s time for change! Microsoft is getting ready to release a wave of changes to the Microsoft Partner Network including modifications in competencies and the retirement of several cloud changes. We hear of the biggest changes while we were attending the Worldwide Microsoft Partner Conference earlier this month and are excited to see how these changes can improve the MPN! Here’s a basic rundown of the changes to expect over the few months:

August 31st, 2013
Microsoft Retires TechNet Subscriptions
Microsoft is no longer selling TechNet subscriptions after August 31st. For partners, this means that if you renew your competencies after August 31st, you will not get TechNet as part of the package. If you renew prior to August 31st, be sure to activate your benefits before September 30, 2013.

October 1st, 2013
Three Partner Incentives Go Live
Three Partner Incentives will go live on October 1st : Enterprise, Solution, and SAM Services. Partner Incentives are used by Microsoft to entice partners to line up their sales efforts with Microsoft’s priorities.

November 2013
Partner Incentive
Another Partner Incentive goes live on Nov 1: Channel Developer.

Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) Goes Away
The SBSC, once a thriving community, is coming to an end as a long turn of events have pushed it out of Microsoft’s view. Microsoft will officially retire the program in November 2013.

Limits on Business-Critical Phone Support
Microsoft partners with gold or silver competencies have been entitled to unlimited phone support for business-critical issues, until now. In November 2013, Microsoft will put their foot down and limit gold competency partners to 15 incidents, and silver to 10 incidents.

Price Changes
The annual November price changes should only involve currency adjustments for the most part.

Digital Push for MAPS
Microsoft has been nudging partners toward digital-only delivery for software in the Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions for years now, primarily by charging a higher price for mailing physical media. Now Microsoft will force all subscribers in geographies with reliable networks to take digital delivery of their MAPS subscriptions.

January 2014
New Competencies Launch
Microsoft is actually adding three competencies as it eliminates and redirects others. A true addition to the competency structure is the User Experience Design competency, which is a nod to the growing importance of the UI designer’s role in everything from mobile to desktop to cloud. Another new competency is Datacenter, but that is mainly a consolidation of some competencies that are being retired. Data Analysis, meanwhile, is a new name for the competency formerly known as Business Intelligence.

Competencies Getting Retired
Six competencies are being retired in January. The Business Intelligence competency is being renamed Data Analysis. Three competencies are being folded into the new Datacenter competency: Server Platform, Identity & Access and Management & Virtualization. The Mobility competency is being split into two existing competencies. Mobile device management scenarios will fall under the Devices & Deployment competency. Mobile application scenarios will fall under the Application Development competency.

Hosting Competency Gets Tracked
“The Hosting competency is not a key business driver today: 40 percent of top [Service Provider License Agreement] partners do not have the Hosting competency,” a Microsoft slide from WPC states. Microsoft regularly claims 15,000 or more hosting partners. The same slide shows that there are only 269 Hosting gold competency partners and 2,295 Hosting silver competency partners. Microsoft is rebooting its efforts to find a place for hosting partners by creating a hosting track across four competencies: Datacenter, Data Platform, Messaging and Communications.

Tracking Cloud
Microsoft has been making noises about integrating cloud into the core competency structure for a few years. Partners will see those changes in January 2014. At that time, Microsoft will launch cloud tracks in a dozen competencies.

Office 365 will be the core of the cloud track in Devices & Deployment, Messaging, Collaboration & Content, Communications, Project & Portfolio Management, Small Business and Midmarket Solution Provider. Windows Intune will be part of the cloud track in Devices & Deployment and Midmarket Solution Provider, as well.

Windows Azure will be the flagship product for the cloud track of Application Development, Datacenter, Data Platform and Data Analytics. Dynamics CRM Online will be the product for the Customer Relationship Management competency’s cloud track.

Because cloud revenue is easier for Microsoft to tie to individual partners, there will be specific revenue or seat deployment requirements as part of the cloud tracks for both silver and gold competencies.

New Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions
Microsoft is launching redesigned MAPS in January. The new MAPS replaces the existing MAPS Development & Design and MAPS Solution Provider. Now partners will subscribe to a universal and customizable MAPS that will emphasize cloud solutions and be focused on partners serving small and mid-size businesses. As with current MAPS subscriptions, the IURs will be geared toward outfitting partner organizations with up to 10 employees. Meanwhile, the new MAPS will be the landing spot for the cloud program formerly known as Cloud Essentials.

MAPS will consist of six “resource centers” designed to organize content and recommend benefits based on core business practices. The resource centers are application design & development, reselling, professional services, hosting, managed services and device design & development.

In addition to IURs, MAPS benefits include technical support, training resources, Visual Studio developer tools, $600 in Bing advertising credits and Ready-To-Go Marketing Campaigns.

Country Qualifications
Microsoft partners with offices in different countries will have to earn any Microsoft competencies in each country where they want to claim that expertise beginning in January 2014.

Partner Incentive
The final scheduled Partner Incentive for Microsoft’s FY14 goes live on Jan. 1, 2014: SPLA Reseller.

Small Business Silver Stays Cheap
Because the Small Business silver competency is an upgrade path for partners who used to pay Microsoft about $350 for a small business version of the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription, Microsoft created a much lower joining fee for that competency than usual. While most silver competencies have a $1,850 joining fee (U.S. price), the Small Business silver competency costs $999. Microsoft has extended the promotional price several times, and the current guarantee runs through January 2014.

A Small Business P2P Network?
Even as Microsoft formally retires the Small Business Specialist Community in November 2013, company officials are promising some sort of new peer-to-peer community for small business-focused partners. According to company documents, plans were being finalized as of July 2013 to spin up the new P2P community in January 2014.

June 30, 2014
Cloud Programs Retire
Completing the integration of cloud programs into MPN competencies and MAPS, Microsoft will officially retire Cloud Essentials, Cloud Accelerate, Cloud Deployment and Windows Azure Circle. Cloud Essentials is basically being folded into MAPS, while the other three programs are headed for various competencies. Cloud Essentials and Cloud Accelerate both launched in 2010.